A train is making its way from Alpine to Campo, but how it’s getting there and why is a little off the beaten track.
Roy Athey’s full-sized, backyard industrial train — along with the train tracks, flagman signals, switches, three buildings and other train-related equipment — are headed for the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum’s Campo Railroad Park & Museum.
Most of the items in his yard are being taken apart by volunteers and will be trucked to their new home over several trips. A caboose of Athey’s is already settled at the site.
Athey, 86, began building the train setup on part of his 2.5 acres of land with friends Casey Derengowski and Jerry Petriozzi after he retired from the San Diego County Probation Department in 1988.
A model train enthusiast and train historian, he opened Descanso, Alpine & Pacific Railway to the public in May 1990.
The railway consists of a 1935 Brookville locomotive and riding car, five stations, a blacksmith's quarters and a 100-foot-long train trestle that gives riders scenic views of the Cuyamaca and Palomar mountains.
Over the years, Athey estimates, he has given nearly 15,000 free rides. Every Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3 p.m., Athey would put on his engineer cap and regale visitors with stories about how railroads work; the sizes of rails, telegraph and telephone systems; about switch lamps and a variety of other rail-related items while traveling a quarter-mile up and back on the tracks.
But Athey says the time has come for the train to move to a bigger yard. His knees don’t allow him the freedom of movement he once had, and neither of his two sons expressed interest in keeping the ride going.
So the railroad park in Campo is the right place for his labor of love and where he knows that railroad traditions continue.
“We talked about it a year or so ago,” Athey said of conversations he had with Jim Lundquist, director of museum services for the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association.
“I had pretty much decided then that that’s where it was all going to go someday. I knew that’s where people can learn and will keep enjoying themselves on the train.”
Lundquist said the train and its companion items will be set up on museum property adjacent to the Campo depot and operated as a new exhibit and ride.
“We’ll be demonstrating how mines and mine railroads and industrial railroads played an important role in the development of San Diego County and the surrounding regions,” Lundquist said.
Many of his items come from trains no longer in service across the United States. He has recycled many odds and ends and given them new life. Some of Athey’s tracks date back to 1887 and were manufactured in Germany and Japan.
Alpine resident Jennifer Doucet said she is looking forward to seeing Athey’s train keep rolling in Campo.
“His gift to the Pacific Southwest Railway in Campo is a continuum of his generosity and his passion for train transportation,” Doucet said. “We must have visited his train depot and taken a complimentary ride over five times.
“And with every trip, his love for his train and historical accuracy exuded from him with every story, every memory shared. I imagine he knows that by giving it to the Campo Museum, he’s certain that it will have a home with other train enthusiasts and it will continue to tell the story of our past.”
Lundquist says the museum is greatly appreciative of the gift, especially knowing how near and dear to his heart the train and all its accessories are to Athey.
Lundquist, an Alpine resident who has been friends with Athey for decades, said Athey’s love affair with railroads is well-known.
He noted that when Athey retired from his job as a probation officer in the late 1980s, his colleagues gave him a retirement plaque.
“It reads, ‘Thanks, Roy, for keeping us on track,’ ” Lundquist said.